Kage Tatsu's Rapier 101

 

Rapier Style Fencing 101

Rapier Style Fencing truely cannot be learned by book or webpage. It might be possible to get a few hand positions, or foot steps down, but it takes a real live opponent or instructor to give you any kind of real ability. I have heard many people say that the learning of "Kata's", which are sword moves in martial arts are almost useless. Once a real battle or fight is started, all these practiced series of moves are worthless, as your opponent will almost never do what the Kata instructs. So, to learn to fence effectively, it is important to know the mechanics of the moves and positions, but real combat against a living person is mandatory. That said, here are some basic things to know.

I have broken the first section of my notes into 5 sections. The first deals with what you will need physically and mentally to train and compete. The second is footwork and foot placement. The next is Parries, followed by Lunges and Attacks. The key to being a good and FAST fencer is to not try to learn to be fast. As my instructor says over and over again, if you can do a move well, then the speed will naturally occur. Therefore, learn the moves, slowly and carefully. Do the moves over and over again, and the speed will naturally occur.

1) BALANCE, STAMINA and MENTAL FOCUS

BALANCE

This is probably one of the most forgotten things you see on the battlefield. Balance is everything, yet so many fighters forget about. Balance allows you to be quick. Balance allows for the fast and accurate attack, it allows for a retreat and escape from advancing blades. Yet so many fighters forget to maintain a balance, and suffer for it.

The correct balance, is to have your weight evenly distributed between your front and back legs, and between the right and left side of your body. You should be in a partially hunkered down position, with your back straight and front and back legs slightly bent at about a 30 degree angle. Your front foot, (right if your right handed) should be pointed forward, and your back foot should be mostly perpendicular, and pointing to your left. The front foot should be in a line with the heel area of the back foot. This gives you balance front, back and side to side. Keeping this balance while you advance, retreat and attack will keep you from tripping, falling, and being pushed over.

 

STAMINA This comes in time. When you first pick up a rapier, you marvel at how light it feels. However, this 2 to 3 pounds of steel gets very heavy, very fast. Over time, (months actually, if not years) your muscles will get used to holding and whipping this long steel rod around. Your shoulder muscles will feel the ache first, but it will get used to it. The next area to feel the burn will be your wrist and fore-arm muscles. You will develope a bulge (like Pop-Eye) eventually in your fore-arms as your muscles get larger to hold and use the rapier. This bulge will only be slightly noticable when you flex it, but it will be there.Stamina comes from repeated practice. Practicing 3 times a week for 2 hours at a time is probably a minimium goal to develope good skills and get fighting stamina.

 

MENTAL FOCUS This comes from practice and experience. When you have done a maneuver or drill so many times (slowly at first) that it becomes second nature, when you have competed so many times that you are no longer nervous (even if you feel outclassed), then you will develope the mental focus. It is all about becoming one with your blade, the moment and your opponent. It allows you to focus on the opponent in front of you, and not worry about what your body will do to move, attack and retreat. Keeping outside distractions and influences to a minimium or even being able to ignore them all together is a part of Mental Focus. Being able to ignore your opponents attempts to distract you with foot stomping, grunts, yells, etc, is also Mental Focus. At the best, you can enter a state of heightened awareness, when time itself seems to slow down and you become a whirlwind of death and mayhem. This is the ultimate state of mind, and is the final goal for the trained fighter. Reaching this state is rare, and being able to enter this state upon request is almost unheard of.

 

2) FOOTWORK

THE STANCE
Your classical starting position, in Parry-6. The front foot should be in line with your back ankle. Your body's center of balance should be between your feet.
Your starting position of a lunge should have your legs apart, with your balance between both feet.
Your forward knee should be directly above your ankle, or just behind it.
Do not let your forward knee extend over your ankle. This will cause you to lose the ability to retreat quickly without having to "pop" up slightly.
Your back foot should be solidly on the ground. This will help your balance and help prevent ankle injuries.
Do not allow your back foot to "roll" onto it's side when you lunge. This hurts your balance and quickness, and also allows your ankle to get injured easily.

Enough cannot be said about footwork. It can be very boring for beginning students to spend their first days doing "Advance", and "Retreat" for hours. However, it is the foundation for all swordplay. If your body does not move correctly, it will make all the future layers have problems. If you don't keep your footwork correctly, and have your body automatically move your feet the right way, you will never be a sucessfull swordsman. Bad footwork will cause you to lose your balance, tire you out quicker, cause "tells" that give your intentions away to your opponent, and prevent your attacks/retreats fail.

 

ADVANCE When you advance, you must be carefull to keep your back straight up and down, and to move your front foot forward a step, and move your back foot a moment later foward the same amount. Do not hop up or down, it should be a smooth glide forward. Also, make sure that you do not drag either your rear foot, or advancing front foot. This is bad form, uses up more energy, might cause you to stumble or get injured, and worst of all, it makes a noise that your opponent can use as a "tell"!

 

RETREAT When you retreat, you must be carefull to keep your back straight up and down, and to move your rear foot back a step, and move your front foot a moment later later the same amount. Do not hop up or down, it should be a smooth glide back. Also, make sure that you do not drag either your rear foot, or retreating front foot. This is bad form, uses up more energy, might cause you to stumble or get injured, and worst of all, it makes a noise that your opponent can use as a "tell"!

 

BALISTRA This maneuver is a leap/jump forward, with both feet leaving the air, almost at the same time. This is done to extend the distance that you might need to cover to hit an opponent. You can go from a Balistra directly into a lunge. Done right, this forward jump should create no height jump, but instead just a leap forward. Be careful tho, this kind of fast movement can cause injury to your opponent or yourself. If you rapidly move forward and your opponent does the same, or does not retreat like you anticipated, you might hit the opponent much harder than you intended. Always be prepared to "pull back" the hit you are trying to make, so you do not injure yourself or opponent!

 

CROSS FORWARD In this maneuver, you walk forward, back foot moving forward one step quickly, followed by your front foot. Always keep your eyes forward, and back straight. You use this maneuver when your opponent is rapidly retreating, or , and a simple retreat is not enough.

 

CROSS BACK In this maneuver, you walk backwards, front foot moving back quickly, followed by your rear foot. Always keep your eyes forward, and back straight. You use this maneuver when your opponent is rapidly advancing, and a simple retreat is not enough.

 

CROSS RIGHT In this maneuver, you walk sideways, the back foot moving sideways to the right quickly, followed by your foot moving sideways to the right. Always keep your eyes forward, and back straight. You use this maneuver when you need to circle around an opponent, or move sidways to prevent an opponent from circling you.

 

CROSS LEFT In this maneuver, you walk sideways, the back foot moving sideways to the left quickly, followed by your foot moving sideways to the left. Always keep your eyes forward, and back straight. You use this maneuver when you need to circle around an opponent, or move sidways to prevent an opponent from circling you.

 

CROSS OVER

This is a blade technique where the tip of your blade goes up and over the tip of your opponents blade. This can be done one of two ways, either when your tips are "dancing" with each other, waiting for your opponent to make a mistake, or it can be done during an attack or while defending. The Cross Over is used commonly in the "Glide" attack.

 

DISSENGAGE

This is a blade technique where the tip of your blade goes under and across the tip of your opponents blade. This can be done one of two ways, either when your tips are "dancing" with each other, waiting for your opponent to make a mistake, or it can be done during an attack or while defending. The Dissengage maneuver is used commonly in attacks such as a "Bind" or a "Snake Bite" maneuver.

3) PARRIES

If you are right-handed, the most important two parries are Parry 6 and Parry 4. If you are left handed, it would be reversed, and it would be Parry 4, and then Parry 6. So, I will start with these two parries, and then move on to the others. The first 4 that any new fencer should work on would be 6,4,7 and then 8. Ignore the other parries until you have these 4 down. Not only are there photos below, but also some short video clips showing the proper movement of the weapon. Many thanks to Robert Childs, my fencing instructor for letting me film him doing the parries.

PARRY-6
This is the classical starting position for all right handed fencers. Your left hand should be up on your left side, and prepared to block. Your right elbow should be just an inch up and to the right of your abdomen, with your hand palm down. Your blade should be going from just outside your body to the tip, center of your opponent, with the tip left and right aimed between your opponents eyes. Make sure you keep that guard protecting your hand from being hit.

Keep your back straight, knees bent. Left arm slightly in front of your head, and finger tips about eye level.

Parry-6 protects your from attacks coming in from directly in front of you, and from your middle right side.

VIDEO OF PARRY 6 POSITION (1.1meg wmv file)

PARRY-4
Your right elbow should be in front of your abdomen, and your forearm should be out at about a 45 degree angle in front of you. Your hand should be rolled over with your palm facing up. The tip of the blade should still be between your opponents eyes.

Keep your back straight, knees bent. Left arm slightly in front of your head, and finger tips about eye level.

Parry-4 protects your from attacks coming in from directly in front of you, and from your middle left side.

VIDEO OF PARRY 4 -(1.1meg wmv file)

PARRY-1
Your left arm has traveled in to be closer to the center of your body. Your right arm is up and above your eyes, with your blade protecting your left side. Edge of the blade is facing out. You should have good vision of what is happening in front of you, and your left hand ready to block front and right attacks.

Keep your back straight, knees bent. Left arm slightly in front of your head, now slightly closer to the center of your chest and finger tips about eye level.

Parry-1 protects your from attacks coming in from your right side.

VIDEO OF PARRY 1 - )1.1meg wmv file)

PARRY-2
Your right arm is now up, with your elbow at shoulder level or slightly higher. The point of the blade should be pointing over your opponents left shoulder. Blade edge is up, and hand should be just even with your eyes, but above and to the right of your eyes. The blade should be in a line to go over your opponents right shoulder.

Keep your back straight, knees bent. Left arm slightly in front of your head, and finger tips about eye level.

Parry-2 protects your from attacks coming in from above you.

VIDEO OF PARRY 2 (1 meg wmv file)

PARRY-3
Your right elbow is an inch or so out and right of your abdomen. Your arm is straight out, and your wrist is flexed out to present the edge of your blade to the outside.

Keep your back straight, knees bent. Left arm slightly in front of your head, and finger tips about eye level.

Parry-3 protects your from attacks coming in from your middle right side.

VIDEO OF PARRY 3 (1.2meg wmv file)

PARRY-5
Your right elbow is even with your shoulder, wrist rotated to point your edge up.

Keep your back straight, knees bent. Left arm slightly in front of your head, and finger tips about eye level.

Parry-5 protects your from attacks coming in from above you. You would go to this over head block from a Parry-6, Parry-3 or Parry-7 normally.

VIDEO OF PARRY 5 (1.1 meg wmv file)

PARRY-7
Your elbow should actually be closer to your abdomen than in this photo. About an in to the side. Blade tip should also actually be a bit higher off the ground, at about your opponents knee height. Blade edge pointed horizontally out, and the sweep of the blade covering the area of your lower right.

Keep your back straight, knees bent. Left arm slightly in front of your head, and finger tips about eye level.

Parry-7 protects your from attacks coming in from directly in front of you, and from your bottom right side.

VIDEO OF PARRY 7 (1.1 meg wmv file)

PARRY-8
Your right elbow in front of your abdomen, about 2 or 3 inches out, wrist rotated over palm up. Blade tip is at about your opponents knee level, and edge of the blade is out.

Keep your back straight, knees bent. Left arm slightly in front of your head, and finger tips about eye level.

Parry-8 protects your from attacks coming in from directly in front of you, and from your bottom left side.

VIDEO OF PARRY 8 (1.1 meg wmv file)

PARRY-9
Your elbow is at or just below shoulder level. Wrist is rotated to face inward, edge of the blade is up. The blade should be above the eyes, and up and out about 6 to 10 inches.

Keep your back straight, knees bent. Left arm slightly in front of your head, and finger tips about eye level.

Parry-9 protects your from attacks coming in from above you. You would go to this over head block from a Parry-4, Parry-1 or Parry-8 normally.

VIDEO OF PARRY 9 (1 meg wmv file)

 

4) LUNGES

THE LUNGE
Start from the classical Parry-6 stance. Make sure you keep your back straight. Decide on a target in front of you.
Extend your arm straight out at the target.

Lunge your foot forward, keeping good ground contact with your rear foot. Make sure that your take your left arm with you to help block a counter attack.

Recover and retreat if necessary. Never assume a hit was felt, good, or will be acknowledged until a few moments after the attack is done.

 

5) BASIC ATTACKS

BEAT ATTACK

The object of a Beat Attack is to "bang" your opponents blade away from being a theat to you, and then hit your opponent before he can recover and counter attack. With a Beat Attack, you traditionally "bang" or "smack" your opponents blade, then try to hit the temporarily exposed hand/wrist/arm or even torso.

From a PARRY-6 starting point, make sure that you at least momentarily have at least 4 to 6 inches of left-right distance between your blade and your oponents blade. Quickly snap your wrist with a clockwise corkscrew motion from an palm down to a palm up position, while at the same time hitting the opponents blade as close to the feeble as you can with your mid blade. Be carefull to ensure that you did not "cock" or "windup" your beat, as this is a "Tell" and an opponent can tell what you are doing in advance.

Your target area to hit your opponents blade is between his midguard to his tip (feeble). Striking any lower means you will not transfer enough kinetic energy to make the beat work. Make sure you are also using the upper portion of your blade when you "beat" your blade onto your opponents.

Once the opponents blade has been hit, the kinetic energy transfer should have moved his blade away, and left yours in a position so that you can now extend and lunch towards whichever target you pre-chose. The beat and your arm outstretching is two actions/directions, but the total movement should be one merged into one motion.

Take care also to ensure that you do not bring your blade back to a 6 after the beat before you extend and lunge. Doing so negates the time that you got from hitting the opponents blade out of the way. It needs to be one smooth motion.

Also be sure that you have fully extended your arm BEFORE you start your lunge. Guide your lunge in, being ready for a disengage, parry 4, or even a retreat if needed.

Now lunge in, and attack your opponent before he can get his point back to bear on you. Make sure you keep your secondary arm/weapon up to parry. Parry 4 on the way out. If you can't make a good lunge because your opponent was ready for you, and has already gone to a parry 4, try a disengage, and hit him on his right side. It is important when you do the beat that your blade is far enough away from your opponents guard that you can do the disengate if you need to.

On your way out from the attempted attack, make sure that you parry to 4, and retreat. An opponents who had received a beat attack will traditionally come back to a Parry-6 or an attack on 6, and this Parry-4 will block his counter attack.

 

GLIDE ATTACK

The object of a Glide Attack is to "bang" your opponents blade down and away from you to your right, as you come in from a top attack

From a PARRY-6 starting point, cross the tip of your blade up and over your opponents blade. Try to get a few inches above the opponents blade if you can. Moving your blade forward a touch, bang down on your opponents feeble area with the mid to forte portion of your blade. This will force his blade down and to your right.
At the same time your blade will start to "glide" down his blade. Aim your point, while it glides down your opponents blade, so that it strikes your opponent in the chest. Also, while your blade slides down your opponents blade, twist your blade so that the two flats are on each other. Your palm should face down. Your feeble and mid blade should push down on his feeble and mid blade. By the time you have completed the lunge into the opponent, your midblade should still be on his midblade. Your blade should not wind up on his forte at any time in the maneuver. This takes some practice and skill to do right. Most of the pushing to side energy comes from the thrust forward after you have started the "opening" in your opponents guard. You can do a "Glide" attack on either side of your opponents blade if the opportunity exists.

The goal is to try to get your quillions to help you control your opponets blade. As soon as your attack is done, retreat while going into a Parry 6 stance again. Since you forced your opponents blade to your right, be prepared for a counter attack which will require you to either do a Parry-6, Parry-7 or even a Parry-3.

In this shot I am the one getting hit, although in the first two, I was the one hitting.

6) PRACTICE MANEUVERS

AROUND THE WORLD #1

The around the world drill, from the teacher's perspective, goes as follows:

Initiate attack three, parry three, attack five, parry five, attack four, parry four.

From the student's perspective:

Parry three, attack three, parry five, attack five, parry four, attack four.

It is very important not to let the student develop the bad habit of maintaining contact with your blade when they go from parry four to attack four. This is a common mistake. The blade has to travel on a straight diagonal.

AROUND THE WORLD #2 In this practice maneuver, two opponents face each other. The first person attacks his opponent at his "4". The opponent parries the attack to his "4" and attacks the iniator in his "4". The first person parries this counter attack. Then the same sequence is repeated, this time with attacks and parries on the 5, followed by attacks and parries to 6. Done correctly, the attacks and parries are done in quick unison. This improves both persons relfexes, style, and stamina. The 4-5-6 pattern is done repeatedly without letup until one person makes a mistake and gets tagged.
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